How to Break the 24/7 Work Habit at Your Agency

By | June 4, 2014
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"When people work together to create predictable time off, people, teams and ultimately the organization all stand to benefit.” — Sleeping with Your Smartphone

Working at HomeIn most cases, it’s the pressure that we place on ourselves and our colleagues that makes work so demanding and all-encompassing.

By making small concessions over time—such as answering client emails in the evening or responding to requests on vacation—we create the impression to others that we are always available

This has a trickle-down effect. Colleagues start to think that they, too, must always be “on” to demonstrate they are equally hardworking and driven. Everybody starts to ask more from you, and expects you to answer quickly, since you’ve set that precedent. You accommodate the additional requests; and therefore, you expect the same of others. The cycle of responsiveness will go on in perpetuity unless your agency puts a stop to it. But how?

Sleeping with your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work by Leslie A. Perlow (@LesliePerlow) explains how predictable time off can put an end to the nonstop workweek and create better work-life balance for employees. Below are lessons from the book that you can apply to your agency.

Understand Team Values

Breaking the cycle takes a team effort; no one individual can do it alone. Start by holding open discussions with your team to understand what’s important to them, what concerns they have and where personal boundaries lie.

  • What are individuals’ personal and professional values?
  • What are the agency’s goals?
  • How do client services expectations come into play?

For example, maybe you discover that your team wants to provide quality client services, but needs more downtime or rest to do so effectively.

Collectively Agree on a Goal

Based on personal values identified above, set a collective, aspirational, but also doable goal for the team around predictable time off. Examples include:

  • Hard stops: Ending the day at a specific time
  • No work on weekends
  • Email or meeting blackouts: Can’t send email or schedule meetings during certain time periods

Whatever you choose, it has to be something that would be valued by the whole group, and not just one individual, to encourage full agency support. The key is shared responsibility. Individuals need to try and achieve the goal personally, and also help their teammates attain it.

For example, if your goal is that no one works on the weekend, then consider setting a reoccurring team meeting every Thursday to discuss deliverables and priorities with the goal of avoiding weekend work.

Add Structured Dialogue

Goals alone won’t garner success; a feedback process is required. Schedule regular meetings to discuss progress on the goal, or lack thereof. Encourage people to talk transparently about what is and isn’t working.

In the book, the Boston Consulting Group’s goal was to give each associate one night off per week. Therefore, their structured dialogue centered on:

  • Did you take your night off as planned?
  • What time did you leave work?
  • How much time did you work after leaving?
  • Was the work absolutely necessary? Who else could have covered/supported?

During these meetings, hold people accountable. If someone was working when they were supposed to be off, call them out on it and understand why.

Lead by Example

Let your colleagues know that time away is okay. This is especially important for agency leaders to convey as they often set the tone for the rest of the office. Unless your team sees you turning off, they won’t feel comfortable disconnecting.

Some tips include:

  • Schedule emails to be sent for the next morning instead of sending on the weekend or afterhours.
  • Leave the office at a set time even if you intend to keep working at home.
  • Don’t call in from vacation; it sets a bad example for the team.
  • Encourage others to take time off. Tell them they can “leave early” or “pack up.”

Small change can transform a culture in big ways. What steps have you taken at your agency to give people time away? Share in the comments below.

Image Source: Marc Samsom